28.9.07

Champagne and celluloid

The fake lake somewhere in Jurong

Another museum project all wrapped up and open to the public. Not that I had as much of a finger in this one, but it's nice to be able to mark something done and done (TM Stellou). At first we thought there wasn't going to be alcohol at the reception after the opening ceremony, because, I dunno, it's an official army event, but then they busted out the beer (and wine) and I was like, duh, of course there's alcohol, this is an army event.

(Army men sit around in the mess and drink beer a lot. I know this because my dad was one of them.)

The post-party party was at The Screening Room at Ann Siang Hill, where plenty of alcohol was served but no films, just a looped reel on Paris Fashion Week, set to a soundtrack of the DJ's own. We were in the basement lounge and I'm told there's a very nice rooftop bar too, but I didn't make it up there. My feet aren't used to wearing high heels anymore, so I plonked myself on a couch and mostly sipped champagne instead (although there was a small dancing incident).

There has been a lot of faffing around this week and I really need to Get. Focused.

Celluloid craziness

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25.9.07

On foot in Paris and London

"How are you going to blog about all this?" Stellou wondered towards the end of my vacation. Good question. She's done a better job of it so far than I have, with her accounts of my close(ish) encounter with the mouse, our visit to the Imperial War Museum (if not for working on the Army Museum of Singapore, I admit that I wouldn't know of the Imperial's existence), our practically nonstop chitter-chatter, and my last couple of days in London.

Across the Channel, my cousin records only the night of gay karaoke --- during which I did not sing, so you could rightly argue that I didn't earn even a mention in that blog entry.

Outside Notre Dame

How to blog this then, sixteen days spent six, then seven timezones away, listening to everyone whine about how they didn't get a real summer while I merrily danced between my choices of two jackets (one brown leather, one black cotton), four pairs of shoes (oh, alright, I only wore two most of the time) and countless combinations of sweater-over-long-sleeved-T-shirt. Some afternoons were warm enough to make me wish I'd snuck a tank-top along as well, and in London, Stellou was happy to loan me a pink-and-white striped one.

But I landed in Paris first, where I tried not to be the dork that describes everything as looking like a movie set, but sometimes it seemed that no matter down which little street I turned, there it was, a pretty movie set waiting for me to walk on. Must be nice, to live in a city where most buildings seem to be older than one's grandparents, if not their grandparents, and where so many neighbourhoods average at a comforting 4-5 storeys high. Plus there seemed to be a patisserie on every street corner (my daily walk to the Metro station took me past three, at least) and a balcony outside every window. How much more charming could it get?

Bicycles on Rue des Boulets

It was my first time in Paris, so I dutifully hit all the tourist stops: the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame, Versailles, Sacré Coeur, Moulin Rouge, Champs-Elysées, Arc de Triomphe --- plus the final jackpot of three museums on my last day: Musée d'Orsay, Centre Pompidou and Musée Carnavalet. Not that this means I spent any time queuing up to climb to the top of the Eiffel or the Arc de Triomphe. More like, I passed by and checked out the tourist spectacle as spectacle in itself, then maundered off to see some art or have a coffee.

So I also saw the Musée d'Art Modérne, which cousin Nardac says no one ever goes to --- and indeed there were not more than ten people there (excluding the security people) when I visited. Nardac's Dacnar took us on his personalised tour of the Père Lachaise cemetery, where we saw the greatest hits like Jim Morrison and Frédéric Chopin and Abelard and Heloise. But we had to give Oscar Wilde a miss because the cemetery was closing and an eagle-eyed security guard on a scooter was trailing us to make sure we really left the place.

Even in as tourist-infested a location as Versailles, Nardac and I blithely walked through a doorway that happened to be open and found ourselves this:

In L'Orangerie

See what I mean about feeling like I was on a movie set?

Actually, the word that kept popping into my head as I flitted about Paris was "stupendous". My aunt, with whom I was travelling then, had used it to describe Notre Dame on our first day, and the word kept recurring whenever I saw something amazing. The Louvre --- stupendous. Musée d'Orsay --- stupendous. Versailles --- stupendous. The gardens of Versailles --- even more stupendous.

And the art ... You'd think I'd have been all art-ed out after the Louvre on the second day, but no, the secret, you see, is everything in moderation. A couple hours of one kind of art, then a break for tea or the toilet or to take photos of tourists, looking at art.

Gawking at the <I>Mona Lisa</I>

And then more of the art itself. Géricault, whom I'd forgotten I liked, and David, whom I'd never really looked at before, and old favourites Matisse and Picasso and new possibilities Robert Delaunay and countless others I've forgotten. Art I loved and art I didn't understand, and art I stumbled upon in the park at Le Jardin du Luxembourg.

And not just in Paris, but in London too: in Sir John Soane's and the Tate Modern and the British Museum and the V&A. We didn't make it to the Design Museum , although Stellou assured me --- as she did repeatedly with many museums, she's the museum cafe queen, that one --- that "it has a very nice cafe". I think I understood even less of the Tate than I did of the Pompidou, so we stepped out for a breather onto the little balcony on the third? fourth? level. Millennium Bridge looked great, but what was up with the clangingly modern piece of music being performed there?

The dome at the British Museum

At least in London the museums were mercifully free, although Naomi Klein wanted to charge me £12 to attend her book launch (pish-posh, is what I believe Mary Poppins would say to that). But what really got my goat is that Macbeth opened three days after I left with Patrick Stewart in the lead. Also, that by the time we discovered during London Open House what a great little theatre the Almeida is, there were no more tickets available for its shows (with Stockard Channing in the lead!) during the remaining days I was in town.

Patrick Stewart! As Macbeth!

I didn't see any Shakespeare this trip, because none of the plays at the Globe were particularly appealing to me. In fact, I didn't see any shows at all unless you count a BAFTA screening of Hula Girls or an Institute of Contemporary Art screening of Helvetica (both were priceless in their own ways). Instead, I burrowed my way through parks and markets: Hyde Park and the neverending Richmond Park in Kingston, Borough Market for cheese and pies and UpMarket for "bohemian/indie" wares.

Since I got back, people have been asking me which city I preferred and I don't know that one can make a choice. Paris was fresh and new (my first time there), the French (people and language) were not as fearsome as some anecdotes had led me to believe, and by the end of my week there, I was thinking that if I had a reason to hang out in the city long enough to get my French up to scratch, that wouldn't be such a bad thing.

London was a grey and grimy second city, but I got to stay with Stellou and Olive, and Stellou and I got to hang out and giggle a lot like we haven't done since we were in university together. How does one weigh the relative appeal of a fresh pain au chocolat from the corner patisserie with that of a fresh pot of homebrewed coffee and all sorts of breakfasty marvels (Cantal cheese, fresh walnut bread from the corner bakery, fig jam or blackcurrant yoghurt) coming out of the kitchen where one can comfortably sit with one leg up on the chair?

Mint tea

I remember the first time I met Olive in Singapore, I asked him how he was enjoying hanging out with Stellou and her sister, to which he responded, "You never know where you'll end up, but there will always be something tasty there." Which is true, because with Stellou and Olive in charge, there was gastro-pubbing at The Charles Lamb, okonomiyaki in Covent Garden (we were keeping in the spirit after seeing Hula Girls), Pieministers from Borough Market, the brunch spread at Otto Lenghi, and finally French food in The Fox Reformed. Sure, Canteen did disappoint, but it was more than compensated for by the home-cooked paella and beef compote that Stellou and Olive respectively whipped up (despite their misbehaving oven).

With all this on the menu, it should come as no surprise that I did not once taste either shepherd's pie or fish'n'chips during my visit.

Yet London's offerings paled in comparison to Paris's, about which I'm certain countless cultural treatises and newspaper commentaries have been written. I will only add that under Nardac's confident tutelage, we had very lovely seafood at Le Chien Qui Fume (the one near Les Halles), Bistro Chantefable off Gambetta and her favourite restaurant somewhere in Belleville. Plus I OD'd on freshly made chocolate eclairs and pain du chocolat almost every day. Good thing I only discovered Nutella crepes towards the end of the trip.

Dinner

On one of our first days in Paris, Nardac mentioned offhandedly that we should let ourselves get lost in Paris, since even the natives do. I didn't --- deliberately, because I didn't want to have to ask for directions in my mangled French --- but there were times between museums when I wasn't so much following street signs as loosely heading in the general direction that I oughta be.

London actually proved to be more of a challenge in this regard, maybe because I rarely had a map with me when I was on my own. Somewhere after heading south from Oxford Street for Piccadilly Circus, I ended up on the Strand, then near Trafalgar Square instead and it was only the providential appearance of a mounted tourist map that saved me from circling the streets endlessly (sure, I could've asked for directions, but where would've been the fun in that?). Then there was the time I came out of the British Museum and again needed to mosey south to Piccadilly Circus --- except that I wound up going north by mistake and had to get my bearings by navigating by the setting sun. Who needs a map when one has heavenly bodies on your side?

I guess I didn't quite get lost enough, because at the end of the day, I still had to make my way home.

The Louvre

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24.9.07

Disturbed sleep

It's really not a good sign when one starts dreaming about Facebooking ...

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I need to get more sun

But the weather in Singapore is just too damn hot.

Lazing in the park

Vacation photos are up on Flickr, after I spent the weekend sorting through them. I really need to stop my hand from quavering whenever I snap a picture, or overexposing my images because they seem too dark on the small camera viewscreen.

No vacation blog post yet. I'll try to crank it out one of these nights.

In other news, I am almost over jetlag (just in time for the work week!), took my first motorcycle ride on Friday, watched 881 in the theatres and today ate a heap of Gouda cheese. Now I really, really need to psych myself up for work tomorrow ...

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21.9.07

Easing back into things

This is my current status on Facebook: [Tym] is mildly jetlagged, swamped with email and missing fresh fromage.

I got back yesterday, spent most of today accepting the fact that I'm jetlagged and reading email in comprehensible dosages, and maybe by tomorrow will be able to kick into gear for some measure of real work. Of course, what I really want to do is sort through the 500-plus images from my camera and cameraphone, so that I can upload them onto Flickr.

I was gone for just over two weeks, but it's funny how much has happened with friends at home during the interim. Everyone is calling or SMSing with, "A lot has happened, we're moving house/switching jobs/exploring a whole new business opportunity/giving you a free trip to Bali." Okay, there's been only one of the latter, but it's a nice way to be welcomed home.

I would like to think that there'll be a travelogue of some kind here soon, but meanwhile there's mountains of work foo standing between me and the weekend.

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3.9.07

At the last minute

I couldn't remember where I'd left my passport and took ten panic-stricken minutes to find it (I did use it just three weeks ago).

I decided to squeeze everything into one piece of check-in luggage. I may not be able to lift it for long now, but I'll be able to offload some of it at my first port of call.

I decided to stop blogging and go eat my last bona fide Asian meal for 16 days.

Ciao!

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2.9.07

Dropping in at Comex

Comex, one hour before closing

It was one of those days, when one spends most of the day faffing about doing nothing --- then at the end of it comes a mad dash to Comex one hour before it closes, to suss out the prices of PC desktops and external hard disks (for a friend, not for me).

I rightfully expected it to be a madhouse and it was, except for those uncanny pockets of emptiness where half-hearted salespeople were trying to move units of software (people go to Comex to buy software?). There were at least two very loud and enthusiastic booths pushing units of what I think was called an iMuse: an MP3 player, camera, address book and two other applications (maybe one was for playing games?) built into one device. For me, the "iMuse" moniker is what killed it --- it made me think instead of iPods or other Apple-engineered devices with more brand cachet.

Over at a cell phone retail booth, the sales guy was yelling rhythmically into the mike: "I give you discount of 50% ah! Unbelievable ah! Only five units left ah!"

And then there were the ever-popular Stuff girls. As we wove our way through the squeeze in front of their booth, I overheard a man asking one of them, "So the magazine, it's monthly, is it?" He must read it for the articles.

We walked out of Comex five minutes before closing and there were still hordes of people pouring in. The cab stand outside Marina Square was, as I'd predicted, a darn sight less messy than the one at Suntec, plus it had the advantage of being located beside a 7-Eleven. While selecting my drink from the fridge, I thought to myself, "Drink something you won't be able to get for the next two weeks," and selected a can of Pokka green tea.

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Quote of the day

There would be no space for goons if it was spooky.
To think that it all began with me innocently pointing out, "Oh, look --- Kallang Airport ... "

If you can make sense of this phrase, you have way more esoteric sources of knowledge than the average person.

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A birthday party, senior citizen-style

Happy birthday, Gong

My grandfather rang in his 90th birthday last night with a chocolate cake from an HDB bakery, a short speech and toast by his eldest great-grandchild, and the flashbulbs of a dozen digital cameras of varying vintage. There was also the requisite nine-course Chinese dinner, and the presence of almost every family member who isn't living overseas, as well as his closest church mates.

This was the first Chinese dinner I attended that involved, technically, three servings of dessert. First, the Portuguese egg tarts (ho-hum). Then the ah bo ling (yum-yum). Then the birthday cake.

The most surreal moment: when Gong Gong's sitting behind his birthday cake with one great-grandchild perched on his lap and another ten or so huddled around him for the picture --- and in my mind's eye, I'm seeing a yellowed photograph from the late 1970s, when he was similarly surrounded by my cousins and me, with Packrat (now a daddy himself) in Gong Gong's arms. The quintessential composition of the picture hasn't changed, nor have the expressions of the children, nor has the aesthetic of the cake. It's just my grandfather who's somewhat older and more distinguished-looking.

Though I suppose the kids are also dressed a lot more hip than we used to be.

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Related post: A little birthday fuss

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